So Nier, yet so far...
Posted 2 years ago By - Zach R.
Mention the name Square Enix to a gamer, and you’re bound to see that far away look in their eyes as they relive the publishers best loved games. From Final Fantasy to Dragon Quest and the Kingdom Hearts series, they’ve certainly provided gamers with some of the most memorable titles of any generation.
Of course, Squeenix is also known for games that are slightly left of center, as well. Games like The Bouncer, Bushido Blade, and Infinite Undiscovery, to name a few. These games tend to find more of a cult following, rather than the raging success of the aforementioned titles.
Nier, from developers Cavia, definitely falls into the latter category. Serving as a brawler with RPG mechanics, and a cast of seriously "out there" characters, Nier is decidedly one of the more interesting titles you’ll see on the Xbox 360 this year.
Right off the bat, Nier hits you with the unexpected; a slew of cursing from an off-screen female voice. It’s here that Cavia is making you aware that this isn’t your typical Square Enix title. Soon after you go through the initial set-up options, you’re tossed into battle against an endless number of the games antagonists, Shades. Essentially, this is merely a tutorial, but as far as ways to catch your attention go, the introduction to Nier is extremely effective.
However, the momentum is lost soon after the tutorial ends. Once you’re thrust into the actual story, the game shifts from its surprisingly brisk pace to a disappointing crawl. In fact, its the game’s pacing that’s really its biggest issue. The problem lies in the games ability to suck you in with a compelling storyline and chaotic battles, and then hit you with some tedious and unnecessary fetch-quests.
Fortunately, fans looking for interesting characters and a uniquely touching, albeit dark tale, won’t be disappointed for too long. Although it takes a while for the story to really get going, once its got its odd-ball hooks in you, it doesn’t let go until the final scene.
The premise has an unnamed father looking to find a cure for "The Black Scrawl", a disease which is slowly taking his daughter. Throughout his journey, he’ll encounter a foul-mouthed hermaphrodite, a smart-alec book with a superiority complex, and a cursed boy who can petrify people. Like I said, this isn’t exactly your typical cast of characters. The game also uses self-referential humor, often commenting on the ridiculous nature of the game design, or the events taking place in the storyline. It’s these little touches that make it extremely likeable, in spite of some of its faults.
When it comes to gameplay, Nier doesn’t stray too far from its Action/RPG roots. Yes, jamming on a single button will get you through most of the game, but there is more to the combat than simple melee combos. Utilizing Grimmoire Weiss’ (the talking book), magical abilities will unleash powerful magic attacks that range from launching spear-like projectiles to conjuring giant hands to beating enemies to a pulp. You can also manage how the AI goes about its business during battles on the fly with a simple press of the D-pad.
Of course, you can’t call this an RPG without plenty of upgrades. The most interesting of these is the use of "words" which enhance your weapon with various effects. In essence, it’s no different from weapon item slots found in more traditional RPGs, but it’s still a nice touch. Thankfully, if that doesn’t necessarily interest you, you can simply stick to hacking and slashing, as Nier never forces you to use any of these elements.
Nier also mixes things up by changing the perspective of the gameplay. While most of the game will have you dispatching enemies in an open-world setting, the game shifts from a 2-D platform style of gameplay to a top-down shooter style fairly frequently. No, it doesn’t change the entire dynamic, as you’ll still be slashing/magicking your way through your enemies, but the nods to the genres keep things fresh...at least for a little while.
Sadly, the mission structure of Nier is where things fall apart, thanks in part to a heavy reliance on fetch-quests. Yes, I know fetch-quests are a standard gaming practice for RPGs, and for the most part, I don’t have much of a problem with them. That said, a little variety to the proceedings would have been more welcome, as you’re literally trudging from one side of the world to the other, all in the name of extending gameplay. The real problem is that whether you’re brawling your way through the main story, or taking on the many side-quests, you won’t be able to escape these incredibly tedious tasks.
Graphics & Sound
Adding a little more salt to the wounds, the visuals in Nier leave something to be desired. While the establishing shots of the environments present the world as expansive and beautiful, once you begin exploring it, you’ll find nothing but bland, ugly deserts and towns. Things don’t get any better with the character models, either. While there’s nothing overtly offensive in the design of the main characters, the random enemies (Shades) are laughably bad, resembling a floating pile of post-it notes gone wrong.
Now, while the visuals are certainly a black mark against it, the audio is its polar opposite. The soundtrack utilizes haunting choral chants and melancholy ballads to great effect, with each world having its own dedicated track. The real surprise however, is that the voice-acting is quite enjoyable. From Kaine’s filthy expletive-filled dialogue to Grimmoire’s dry British cynicisms, the character interactions in the game add a surprising amount of life to the world.
If you’re in the game for the main story, you’ll be looking at close to 10 - 15 hours of gameplay. The repetition of the combat and quest-types will drain some of your motivations early on. But those willing to stick it out will find themselves locked in for an enjoyable ride. There are four endings, plus a ton of side-quests for those that are looking for a more complete experience, but again, the repetition may prove too much for fans seeking something resembling Square Enix’s other big-name franchises.
The team at Cavia have without question nailed the entertainment portion of the game. But, the gameplay still needs a few tweaks to remain just as engaging. For a first run, Nier is exactly what it should be; a flawed game with a ton of potential. We can only hope they get the chance to realize the untapped portions in the "Nier" future.
+ Storyline is quite engaging
+ Audio is outstanding
+ Perspective shifts give the gameplay some much needed flair
+ Never forces the RPG elements on those looking for a straight up brawler
- Visuals are lacking, big time
- Combat is too simple
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Release Date : 2010/04/27
System : PlayStation 3
Publisher : Square Enix
Developer : Cavia
Category : Action
ESRB : T
7.0 / 10
8.5 / 10
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